I am not part of the, “I grew up on mac and cheese,” crowd. In fact, I can’t remember eating it until middle school. Even then, it was the refined Annie’s Herb and Garlic variety. This was high-class boxed mac and cheese, full of flavor. There was none of the Kraft, bright yellow nonsense. Sadly, Annie’s doesn’t even make the flavor anymore.
The first time I had homemade macaroni and cheese, I was a freshman in high school. Stranded after basketball practice, one of my coaches took me home to wait for my mom. It was a classic Seattle night, rainy and dark. I remember the way my body ached and how my hands hurt from the cold. Tucker reheated mac and cheese. Even if I was allowed to tell her I didn’t like it, which I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have. She was my coach. I remember that plate, the crusty topping, and the gooey looking mess of intertwined noodles.
I don’t remember what we talked about. I can barely picture her kitchen. I doubt I could even find my way back to her house. But, those noodles. I remember those noodles – creamy smooth and sharp with cheddar. Each bite was like wrapping my body in a warm blanket. Best of all was the crusty topping with slightly burnt cheese. There aren’t many times a dish makes your body stop aching, but this was certainly one of them.
Now that I’m a little older, I like adding veggies to my mac and cheese. It lets me enjoy all the warm goodness of cheesy pasta with the added bonus of feeling healthy! My favorite benefit is, mac and cheese can be made on the cheap. The cost of pasta is negligible and the rest of these ingredients are relatively inexpensive.
Grown Up Mac – Fusilli and Cheese
1 lb fusilli pasta
1 TBS olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1 TBS garlic, minced
4 TBS butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1½ cups 2% milk (Note: You can use skim, just increase the flour by 2 TBS)
1 pound cheese, grated (Any melting cheese will work. I like to use more than one kind, like mozzarella and cheddar. It adds extra flavor.)
1 egg, beaten
¼ tsp pepper, plus more to taste
Salt, as needed
½ cup frozen peas, defrosted
½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Small pinch of bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cook the fusilli until very al dente. Drain.
While pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan. Sauté onions until translucent (about 5 minutes). Add garlic and sauté until fragrant (about 1 minute). Remove onion and garlic from pot and set aside.
Wipe pan clean and add butter and flour. Whisk together over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Make sure to whisk constantly to keep the butter/flour mixture from burning. (Note: This is an important step. It cooks out the raw taste of the flour.)
Pour in milk and whisk until smooth. Cook for five minutes until mixture thickens. Reduce heat to low.
Remove ¼ cup of the sauce and slowly pour it into the beaten egg, whisking constantly. Whisk until mixture is smooth. (Note: This will keep the egg from cooking.)
Pour egg mixture back into the sauce and stir to incorporate. Add cheese, reserving one handful for topping, and stir to melt. Add pepper. Taste sauce and adjust seasonings as needed.
Coat four 10-ounce ramekins with non-stick cooking spray. In a large bowl, toss drained pasta, peas, tomatoes, and cheese sauce. Transfer to coated ramekins. Top with grated cheese. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden.